Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Contenders or pretenders?

Jets have to become consistent to show they belong with the big boys

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It's Christmas and an unfortunate time for a lump of coal but don't let the results of late fool you into thinking the Winnipeg Jets are something they're not.

They're a bubble team at best right now. They're not in a playoff spot and they've yet to prove they can make that happen.

 

There have been bright spots and lots of improvement but there's much work to be done.

While life of late has been glorious as the team has put together a 7-4-1 mark over the month of December, many questions remain about the Jets and whether they can make the leap from outsiders to playoff contestants.

The Jets are now 16-14-5 and they've climbed out of one hole to get above .500 but they haven't been able to climb into a playoff spot. They've been close but each time it's been within reach they've dropped a loss into the mix.

Friday night's clunker, featuring a third-period spanking from the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, encapsulated what the Jets are right now. They played well for two periods and then disappeared in the third. They're two-thirds of the way towards being a team that's reliably deadly, not just sometimes dangerous.

Winnipeg has punched above its weight class for bursts this season but they've yet to show they belong in the heavyweight division.

They're middleweights and no more until they prove they can hang with the big boys.

The next month will tell us if this a team made for the long haul or just a gang of sprinters already close to being spent.

The Jets are the sports story of the year in Canada and the last six months have been absolutely glorious as our summer for the ages bled into a fall where our legends returned.

Night after night we've filled our barn and sounded off for all the country to hear. We're not too small and we're not too poor. We're just right. The ride has been great and the best part is it's just getting started.

But all that does not a contender make.

The players have responded well to their new role in Winnipeg and they're fun and entertaining to watch.

The next step, however, is a major one. Games become more intense and difficult to win after Christmas and the Jets have a load of road matches coming up and they're just 4-8-4 away from the MTS Centre.

Adrenaline and great goaltending can take a team so far but sooner or later they need to forge a style that's consistent and resistant to the rigours of an NHL season.

And sooner or later a team must live up to the moment and seize the opportunity.

The Jets haven't done that and getting over the line and into a playoff spot is just the first step in that journey. Once a team gets into the top eight they have to stay there.

Will the Jets get over the hump? Maybe. But one good month doesn't do it. They need another and then another and then another.

One thing is for sure: It won't be boring as the mystery of the 2011-12 Winnipeg Jets continues to unfold.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2011 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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